Friday, 30 March 2012

Total War Shogun 2 - Fall of the samurai review

So the final piece of Shogun 2's historical cycle has completed here with probably the best total war game from Creative Assembly in quite some time.
The campaign map is bigger than Shogun 2

Although there is never anything approaching a story in Total war games, there is always historical context for the factions available and what they should be aiming for.  Rise of the samurai was about the creation of the samurai class in Japan, while the main Shogun 2 game uses the sengoku era to give us some context for these conflicts.  Fall of the samurai focuses on the rise of the western powers in Japan after centuries of isolation from the rest of the world.  With this rise came technology and new ways of thinking that clashed with the traditional culture and society that Japan had nurtured for so long.  This rise led to the conflict between the Shogun and his loyal allies, who want to banish all foreigners and return to the life of tradition, and the Emperor who has made huge advances with help from countries such as France, Britain and the United States.  Historically this civil war was called 'the boshin war' and saw the shogunate defeated by the loyal imperial forces.  In fall of the samurai though, you can take your clan and defeat the emperor, help history stay on track or even create a new faction yourself and attempt to defeat both forces to create an entirely new Japan.

At launch the game features six playable factions, three of them loyal to the emperor and three to the Shogun.  The general aim for both types is to defeat the other in the name of their lord, but inevitably clan's who both support the shogun or emperor will fight each other to gain provinces and more income.  The game did run several pre-order incentives that unlocked upto three extra playable clans, that will no doubt be released as DLC in the future. 
Railways allow fast travel for entire armies now

Fall of the samurai is a stand alone expansion much like Napoleon total war, so don't worry about needing to rush out and buy Shogun 2.  The game does take a meaty 32gb of HDD space though if you don't own shogun 2 so expect a long install.  This game also marks the furthest point historically of any other total war game, featuring railways, modern rifles, ironclad steam ships and machine guns, so its a massive departure from the katana and spear wielding units of the last game. 

If you are new to total war then the basic gameplay is broken down into two parts.  The first is the campaign map which is a large three dimensional map of Japan, broken down into many provinces each containing a town or city.  Each province allows you to train troops for your armies, build new structures within them for increased income each turn or to unlock new units, and several other benefits.  You can engage in diplomacy with other clans you have encountered, forging alliances, trade agreements and even joining wars.  The stronger your relationship with neighbouring clans the less likely they are to attack you, but then you may want their territory eventually so always be ready to strike.  You can also employ agents to perform several tasks on the map ranging from sabotaging enemy towns to assassination or even bringing enemy family members over to your cause.  Moving armies and fleets around to attack your enemies though will bring you into the other main part of the game, the battle system.
The smoke effects and rifle sounds reall add to the atmosphere

Battles in total war can be autoresolved by the computer, but to avoid unncessary losses you will want to actually go into the field and command your troops personally.  The battles can be quite large and require constant attention to avoid flanking attacks or surprise ambushes from your opponent.  Units range from line infantry, cavalry, artillery to more traditional forces such as spearmen and archers.  It is possible to open trade with the west and unlock western units for recruitment in the form of a single marine unit (Royal marine, U.S. marines, Troupe de marine) depending on which nation you opened relations with, and a single warship (Warrior, Roanoke, L'ocean) which are the most powerful ships in the game, but cost a small fortune and have very high upkeep costs compared to the cheap marine units.

Sieges now play very differently as artillery can now quickly level walls and gates, along with destroying defensive structures.  As a defender you will want to try and draw the enemy in, while playing the attack your forces will need to cause as much damage as possible before making the assault on the walls.  Naval barrages can cause massive damage here since both attackers and defenders have little room to maneuver.

The seasons play a part in the overall mood of your populace, with spring giving a clan wide happiness bonus, summer improving campaign movement speed, autumn lowering the harvest amounts and winter causing general unhappiness and the least movement on the map.  You will want to pick your moments to attack based on the seasons, using summer to execute conquests, and winter to replenish and defend.  Unlike previous total war games the number of turns before a year passes has now been greatly extended, with each season taking around six turns each.

Naval battles are great fun, but need constant micromanagement

There are many subtle aspects I have missed, but to list them all would take too long, suffice to say that total war is a very in depth game with unlimited replayability.  So whats new for you total war regulars?  Well since we have moved into the late nineteenth century we now have access to rifle's, modern howitzers, ironclad steamships, railways and gatling guns.  Although you can play a more traditional way by training just samurai units and try to defeat the forces of the modern world with sword and bow.  Combat is largely unchanged in fall of the samurai, but does now play alot more like Empire total war, with you maneuvering musket/rifle armed line infantry into firing position, backed by artillery and skirmishers.  Cavalry can now wield revolvers and other ranged weaponry along with the more traditional sabre or spear. 

Having friendly navies within range on the campaign map prior to a battle will allow you to call in upto two offshore naval barrages that look amazing, and can cause massive damage to enemy forces if used correctly.  Artillery and gatling guns can now be used in a first person mode, where you control the cannon and fire.  This is immense fun as you carefully lineup your shot before following the cannon ball to its destination.  This can also be done with ships in naval battles, brining back memories of playing battlestations pacific.  Naval combat is improved from Shogun 2's lacklustre offering, with large impressive vessels to deploy and more tactical options to employ.  The AI for naval battles is a little poor though, with friendly fleets to ready to simply bunch up and shoot each other rather than the enemy.  Trying to attack in formation causes a bug where the fleet will never attack and simply move left and right eternally until you break the formation and give ships orders individually.  CA definitely need to patch this, but its nothing game breaking, just more micro-management compared to the land battles.  Land battles themselves are pretty much bug free, with the AI taking advantage of terrain when it can, and trying to overwhelm you when it has the numerical advantage, or flank when it has superior cavalry.
Artillery fired from first person is a real blast (excuse the pun)

The game tries to attempt a kind of balancing act between modernisation to unlock new units and technologies with the happiness of your populace.  The potential is a samurai rebellion, that will attempt to take your province and return it to the old ways.  The problem is that its easy to avoid provided you just keep cheap garrison units in each town and you will never see any rebellions.  During my entire campaign playthrough I had one warning of discontent which I fixed by training two levy units to keep the repression up, eventually building a police station which completely eradicated all worry of an uprising.  This may work better if they had a small percentage chance of it happening regardless of clan happiness, because as it stands it will very rarely happen.

Graphically Fall of the samurai has changed little from Shogun 2, which isn't anything bad by any means.  Zooming down to eye level reveals the incredible detail and attention paid to each unit type, with metallic items glinting in the sunlight as they move around or fight for survival.  Blinding smoke cloubs billow up as units fire by rank, the ground becomes scarred as artillery shells crater and mark it with each volley.  The landscape changes with each season, with autumn showing orange tress and being overcast and rainy, while spring has fields of lush green and blossoming flowers. Castle sieges now show far more devastation as artillery rips apart walls and towers, while naval barrages leave massive craters in the castle grounds.

The music is great as always keeping with the traditional sounds created in Shogun 2 with more serene pieces for the campaign map tailored to each season, while battle music is loud fast and really sets the mood for the clash of arms.  Rifle and artillery fire is powerful and gives a real sense of force and impact.
The old and the new clash in this final shogun 2 instalment

So overall as a final hurrah from Shogun I think CA have hit gold.  Some bugs are apparent from launch, but the beauty of PC gaming is in the patching and Creative assembly will soon be releasing patches to combat the most glaring issues.  Fall of the samurai is easily one of the best total war games made and is the one I have the most fun playing.  Get it if you enjoyed Empire and Napoleon total war, or if you fancy something a little more in depth than your average strategy title.

Score: 8.5/10


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